November releases included The Light Between Oceans, Arrival, and Hacksaw Ridge. While they’re all a little outside the desired window to have a clear shot at Oscar glory, some of the best of the year were to be found here.
The Light Between Oceans (Derek Cianfrance, 2016)
Watching Alicia Vikander for two hours is enough to make this worth seeing, but this is an exquisite film from Derek Cianfrance, who brought us the incredible The Place Beyond the Pines. Following personal loss, lighthouse keeper Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) and his wife Isabel (Vikander) find a washed up boat containing a dead man and a crying baby. They pass the child off as their own, assuming no one is looking for it. The film is a slow burn but is breathtakingly beautiful even in the small moments. Vikander and Fassbender are exceptional. Based on the bestseller by M.L. Stedman, the film is more satisfying than the book, although once it ended I remembered why I didn’t lavish praise on the story after reading – the ending leaves an empty feeling. Nevertheless, the journey up until that point is sublime.
Hacksaw Ridge (Mel Gibson, 2016)
Having recently won eight AACTA Awards, and having been nominated for three Golden Globes, Hacksaw Ridge is Australian cinema’s 2016 success story. While it’s an American story with American characters, the film was shot here in NSW and features a predominantly Australian cast (with the obvious exception of Andrew Garfield in the lead role, along with Vince Vaughn). Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths and Sam Worthington co-star, along with a host of other familiar local faces. Mel Gibson directs, and delivers a patriotic and religious film which may challenge some viewers’ values (particularly Republicans who are devout Christians yet pro guns). Garfield plays Desmond Doff, a ‘conscientious objector’ to gun violence in WWII who became an army medic, saving 75 wounded soldiers and becoming the first person to win the Medal of Honor without firing a single shot. It’s inspiring stuff, but it’s also the most gruesomely violent war film I’ve ever seen. My mouth hung open for much of the first battle scene. This is not for the faint-hearted. Sometimes the patriotism gets a bit much, but Gibson makes sure to include moments that remind us that the enemy were still humans too.
Arrival (Denis Villeneuve, 2016)
Probably the best alien film I’ve ever seen – YES I SAID IT. Because maybe aliens aren’t something to be feared and attacked. Maybe the politicians and the media are wrong in their scaremongering. Oh hmmm what we could compare this to in our current society? Aside from that important underlying message, Arrival is expertly directed by Sicario’s Denis Villeneuve, who always seems to avoid the scenes we expect (also the case in 2013’s Prisoners). Starring the wonderful Amy Adams, the film almost looked like it was going the lame “the fifth dimension is love” bullshit that we saw in Interstellar, but thankfully this was avoided and the film’s twist was very satisfying. Some boofheads might be disappointed with the lack of action sequences, explosions, and oh-so-scary clichéd looking aliens, but this film is made for audiences with at least a modicum of intelligence. I’ll avoid going into the plot because going in cold worked a treat. A must see.